With the assurance of research specialists in Irish genealogy, we've realized that the names offered as godparents for an Irish baby's baptism are specifically selected relatives, which can reveal something about that parental couple's family constellation. The sponsors—or godparents—are either sibling to one of the proud parents, or in-laws of the same. But given the prevalence of certain surnames in a tiny community, how do we tell which one is which?
Take, for instance, the baptismal record for one son of my father-in-law's great-grandparents, Denis Tully and Margaret Flannery. William, baptised on May 8, 1839, in the Catholic parish of Ballina in County Tipperary, had for his godfather, John Tully. Being that the child's father was also a Tully, we could presume that John Tully was brother to Denis Tully.
However, we also know that John Tully—at least one of the men by that name in Ballina—was married to a woman named Kitty Flannery. Another possible scenario would be that Kitty was sister to Margaret Flannery, and her husband John was merely the in-law, not a sibling. Granted, he could also be a cousin, but for purposes of the formula demonstrated in naming baptismal sponsors, a cousin would not fit the equation, while an in-law would.
The point is that, right now, we can't be sure of the relationship—for this child's sponsor, or for any of the others I've researched for these two surnames in Ballina. But since we've gathered so much information, now, we need to have a reliable place to store the information for future reference.
That's where a floating tree comes in handy. Of course, that is not the only solution. I could wait until I am perfectly sure, with documentation in hand, before I add the correct information to the tree—but for the Catholics in 1840s Ireland, that may never be a possibility. Another solution could be to enter the names into my father-in-law's tree with a huge warning sign, alerting anyone else that the individual's appearance in the tree is currently based solely on hypothesis.
A less messy way is to use the device known as a "floating" tree—a limited tree embedded within, but detached from, the pedigree chart of the rest of the family. Until I know—if ever—the exact relationship between these various Flannerys and Tullys from Ballina, that is exactly what I'll do. In the meantime, I'll work on examining what may be evidence of their also having emigrated from famine-ravaged Ireland to Ontario, Canada, as did my father-in-law's direct line of descent from Denis and Margaret Flannery Tully.
The steps to set up a floating element in a family tree—at least, if you are using Ancestry.com—are fairly straightforward. The best explanation I've found comes in video instruction from Connie Knox at GenealogyTV. Margaret O'Brien of Data Mining DNA takes it one step forward by including instruction on how to do so, using either Family Tree Maker or Roots Magic, as well.
For now, I'll be adding a floating element for the couple John Tully and Kitty Flannery, to preserve the documentation found on their whereabouts, once they arrived in Canada. Likewise, as I explore the one William Flannery found in Ontario, I'll store links to records about his family. Tracing these lines forward will hopefully yield the type of documentation we are accustomed to—the records which yield parents' names, or location of origin, or at least siblings to tie these lines together. Or confirm they are absolutely not related. It's a long process, tracing all these possible lines of relationship, but if it yields answers otherwise not found in records back in their homeland, it will be a productive exercise.